SFU names VP Joy Johnson as university’s next president

SFU vice-president Joy Johnson will succeed the university's outgoing president in September | Photo: Chung Chow

What happened: SFU has picked one of its vice-presidents to take over as president of the university

Why it matters: Joy Johnson replaces Andrew Petter, who had served as SFU president for a decade

There will be a familiar face sitting in the president’s office come September when Simon Fraser University welcomes its next president.

SFU has tapped its own vice-president of research and international, Joy Johnson, to take over from outgoing president Andrew Petter when he leaves office August 31.

“It is an amazing institution that has grown incredibly over the past 10 years and I’m really looking forward to continuing to help SFU achieve its full potential,” Johnson told Business in Vancouver Wednesday (January 8), the day of the announcement.

“I recognize that as my role as vice-president research and international I haven’t had the full purview of the university. And I look forward in my new role to engaging with faculty, staff, students, with our community members and alumni, and learning from them about what priorities need to be and working together to make SFU an even better place.”

Johnson has been SFU’s vice-president of research since 2014, having previously served as scientific director at the Institute of Gender and Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research going back to 2008.

SFU’s research income has grown from $103 million to $161 million between 2014 and 2020, according to the university.

“Over the course of this competitive process, Prof. Johnson stood out from other candidates for her depth of academic and research experience, commitment to students and enthusiasm for the future of SFU,” Fiona Robin, chairwoman of the presidential search committee and the university’s board of governors, said in a statement.

Johnson graduated from the University of B.C.’s nursing program in 1981 before heading out to the University of Alberta to earn a master’s degree in nursing in 1988 and then a PhD in 1993.

It was during that period that she became increasingly exposed to the research aspects of the profession.

“When I went back to graduate school, I caught the academic bug,” Johnson said.

She returned to UBC’s School of Nursing the following year for a tenure-track position, going on to become an associate professor and unit director for the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.

“For me, that experience, having spent several years both as a researcher, a teacher within the university setting, but also leading strategic initiatives with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, it’s really prepared me well to understand the landscape of advanced education both here in the province but also how we fit into the national landscape,” Johnson said.

Among her top priorities will be championing the development of a gondola connecting SFU’s campus on Burnaby Mountain with the Production Way SkyTrain station.

“We shouldn’t be saying ‘SFU’ without saying ‘gondola’ these days,” she said.

“We really do need better transit up the mountain here on Burnaby campus. We know when the weather gets snow, which it might well do next week, that our buses have difficulty getting up the mountain. And it would be a game-changer for us.”

—With files from Patrick Blennerhassett